Deflategate became a whirlwind of a scandal for the National Football League: its poster boy, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, suspended; its Super Bowl winner caught cheating; and the public engaged with football for all the wrong reasons. Major League Baseball wouldn't want to deal with anything similar.

To that end, MLB implemented new rules concerning its game balls this season, according to an Associated Press report Tuesday. The regulations essentially work to ensure that game balls are always under MLB watch: A league representative now watches the balls get transferred from the clubhouse to the umpires’ room and an MLB security person now brings the new supply of balls to the field instead of a ball boy or ball girl, who used to do the task. The measures -- reportedly first discussed in the MLB’s winter meetings in December -- allow the league to keep tabs on the game balls from the pre-game through the final out. The timing of the report, one day after Brady got slapped with a four-game suspension, perhaps served to assure fans that the league's baseballs were being watched. But it doesn’t mean baseballs won’t be tampered with. In fact, tampering apparently happens all the time.

Last year New York Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda was caught with pine tar -- a sticky substance used for grip on bats -- streaking up his neck. The official MLB rules state a pitcher can’t add a foreign substance to the ball, like pine tar, Vaseline or suntan lotion. It was a high-profile cheating violation in a big game between the Yankees and rival Boston Red Sox.

Pineda received an automatic 10-game suspension, which at first glance seemed steep. But starting pitchers take the mound only once every five games, so it amounts to just two starts lost. In total, 10 games lost is just 16.2 percent of a 162-game baseball regular season. In comparison, Tom Brady's four-game suspension  amounts to 25 percent of the season.

The moves to keep baseballs under MLB’s watch can only be a good step, said Marc Edelman, associate professor of law with a sports specialty at Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business. “Sports leagues and integrity of play, it’s not just an issue -- it’s the issue,” said Edelman.

However, pine tar use among pitchers still persists.


In an article after the Pineda incident, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick wrote that pine tar use for pitchers was not going away. In terms of the severity of the practice, the baseball world ranked it "somewhere [on par] with sign-stealing in that vast middle ground of gamesmanship rituals," Crasnick wrote. 

Perhaps 90 percent of pitchers are using some sort of substance, especially suntan lotion, to get a superior grip on the baseball, according to a 2013 Yahoo report. The practice isn't exactly harmless. A better grip on the ball allows for more control, which some batters report liking because it makes for more safety when a pitcher is throwing a hard ball at a speed of more than 90 miles an hour. But every mound already comes equipped with a rosin bag to reduce moisture on a pitcher's hand and improve control. Pine tar and suntan lotion also help a pitcher get more break on a pitch -- meaning a curveball drops more, a sinker dips harder, a two-seam fastball tails more severely -- which is an invaluable added benefit. Former star pitcher Dwight Gooden commented to that effect on Twitter (via Crasnick).

A deflated football, meanwhile, allows for a better grip and advantage during a game, and it's not an entirely uncommon practice. During the height of the original Deflategate controversy, former NFL quarterback Matt Leinart hinted as much on Twitter.
The component parts of what caused Deflategate and baseball infractions -- like Pineda's or Tampa Ray's reliever Joel Peralta or the accusations against Red Sox starter Clay Bucholz -- are seemingly similar. The biggest difference might be a long history of the tampering, with legends like Gaylord Perry messing around with baseballs. Yet an infraction for adding a substance seems relatively light, especially for a league that suspended the troubled Alex Rodriguez for an entire season. The MLB doesn't want bad PR for a Deflategate-type controversy.

"It is certainly a smart move of Major League basegball to put a policy in place," Edelman said. "[The MLB's] goal is to attempt to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen in their sport." 

But a weighted-down or lightened baseball was never really a concern for baseball. A shifted-in-weight ball is hard on a pitcher's arm as well as a player's bat. "We can't deflate 'em," Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia said to the AP. "It's precautionary I guess." 

The new rules cannot hurt MLB because a league's integrity matters most, as Edelman pointed out. But it doesn't mean the new additions will truly stop baseballs from being tampered with. The players who do get caught adding a substance to a baseball get punished less severely than the NFL's Brady. Perhaps it will take an extremely high-profile player, getting caught in a big-time game -- like Brady in the AFC Championship -- but so far MLB's most common form of ball-tampering has yet to draw the casual fan's interest.